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How to succeed in law by actually trying

|Written By Gail J. Cohen

BOSTON — At a panel on improving gender equity and performance at the Association of Bar Associations meeting here Saturday, only a handful of people showed up to hear the speakers. So instead of having a formal presentation, the panellists decided to sit down with the few attendees and have more of a back and forth discussion.

There was an interesting discussion about gender equity and other diversity issues but near the end of the hour and half chat, it veered toward young lawyers and how to succeed. So I thought I’d share some of tips for success put forth by the group that included former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Margaret Marshall, Richard Quimby, a litigation partner at Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan, and Boston Bar Association president Paul Dacier, who is also executive vice president and general counsel of EMC Corp.

  1. Take stock of the environment around you, assess the strengths and weaknesses, then exploit them to your benefit.
  2. You have to love what you do.
  3. Speak up and make sure people in position to give you work know what you want to do and what you’re capable of doing.
  4. It’s up to young lawyers to see out mentors and sponsors. Be sure you find a sponsor in the firm — someone who will got to bat for you and recommend you for choice assignments and promotion. Don’t let that person down.
  5. When a partner asks you to do something, don’t give an excuse why you can’t do it. You are well advised to ask when exactly they need the work done and assure them you will have it done by then, then figure out your personal schedule to make sure that happens.
  6. Don’t give details on why you’re out of the office. Women, in particular, tend to say if they have to pick up the kids or got to the doctor. Don’t.
  7. The best time of the day to get good advice and have your questions answered by partners is usually between 5 and 7:30 p.m.
  8. If you fail, dust yourself off and try again. Every failure teaches you something. This, of course, applies all through your career.


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